By Rep. Silvestre Reyes
Chair, Congressional Hispanic Caucus International Relations Task Force
As members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), we are uniquely positioned to advocate for the increased involvement of Hispanic Americans in our nation’s foreign policy community and for the strengthening of U.S. relations with Latin America. As a result, the CHC has developed a broad portfolio of legislative priorities and issues for the 108th Congress focusing on international relations efforts with Latin America.
Among the thirteen CHC Task Forces is the International Relations Task Force. We created the International Relations Task Force to work to reach a consensus within the CHC and advocate for progress in the following areas: increased development funding for Latin America and the Caribbean, inter-parliamentary contacts, and contacts with inter-governmental organizations. Throughout the 108th Congress, we have worked diligently to advance a number of these diplomatic and foreign policy efforts.
In an effort to continue its commitment to furthering diplomatic relations between the United States and Latin America, members of the CHC recently welcomed the Forum of the Presidents of the Legislatures of Central America and the Caribbean (FOPREL). We believe that democracy and international understanding in the Western Hemisphere can be fortified through direct contacts between members of national legislatures. During our meeting, we discussed policy issues of trade, immigration, and economic development.
The CHC also met with a delegation of Catholic Bishops from Central America to discuss the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The bishops expressed their concerns with the impact of the negotiated CAFTA on the agricultural sector, the lack of labor and environmental protections, and the need for public accountability in negotiating trade agreements agreement.
Members of the CHC and the Central American Leaders vowed to work together to tackle the pressing problems facing the region.
Furthermore, as Hispanics, we recognize the many problems that are faced by our neighbors in Latin America, and as Americans, we feel a great urgency to assist with funding for important programs that support social and economic development in this region. We believe that a more economically developed region will bring greater stability, consolidate democracy and benefit the American economy as well. Therefore there is a need for increased funding levels for bilateral and multilateral development assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean, focused on reducing poverty and developing a stronger middle class in the region. A wide range of development assistance programs must be considered, from large-scale government-to-government assistance to small-scale micro-lending and grant programs.
Earlier in the 108th Congress, CHC Member and House Democratic Caucus Chair Bob Menendez introduced the Social Investment and Economic Development Fund for the Americas Act to support fragile democracies and combat poverty in Latina America and the Caribbean by investing in education, healthcare, and economic development. The Social Investment and Economic Development Fund addresses the social problems which challenge the region today and which are not sufficiently addressed through current US development funding. The Menendez bill is a key example of CHC Member legislative pursuits to advance the nation’s foreign policy and support development efforts in Latin America.
During this year’s appropriations cycle for foreign operations, the CHC supported a number of efforts focusing on Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, the CHC sought to restore funding to Development Assistance and Child Survival and Health. This year in the President’s budget, Development Assistance was cut by almost 10 percent to $241.7 million compared to funding levels in 2004. Child Survival and Health programs were cut by almost 12 percent to $130.2 million over the same period. These proposed cuts would severely impact individuals, families, and communities who already suffer from poverty, hunger, inadequate health care, and political instability. The CHC is calling for a restoration of funding for these accounts to at least FY04 levels.
The CHC also called for increased funding to the Inter-American Foundation. Established under the 1969 Foreign Assistance Act, the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) promotes entrepreneurship, self-reliance and democratic principles as well as economic progress for the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean. The CHC supports increased funding so that the IAF may further its development efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Furthermore, we have requested full funding for the Cooperative Association of States for Scholarships (CASS) program which operates out of the U.S. Agency for International Development. CASS provides training to disadvantaged students with demonstrated leadership qualities from Central America and the Caribbean at U.S. educational institutions. Ninety-eight percent of CASS graduates return to their home country where they make a difference in using the skills they acquired in the U.S. to promote economic and social development. The CASS program also includes a volunteer requirement for students while in the U.S., enriching our communities through their work.
Throughout the remainder of the 108th Congress, members of the CHC will continue to work toward fostering diplomatic relations with government leaders in Latin America, as well as pursuing an agenda that stresses the importance of and need for funding of economic development and social assistance programs.
After serving his country in Vietnam, Congressman Reyes decided to devote his life to public service. He is now in his fourth term representing the 16th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. Rep. Reyes is a member of the House Armed Services Committee where he serves as the Ranking Member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee and as a member of the Subcommittee on Readiness. He also serves as a senior member of both the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.